Results tagged ‘ Jim Hickey ’
When the Tampa Bay Rays first acquired Chad Qualls from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the end of the Trade Deadline, I thought a change of scenery might be just the thing for him. You know the drill, a change of venue can bring about a change in attitude and also confidence. Plus Qualls was coming to a team that boasted a former team mate (Dan Wheeler) and a Pitching Coach (Jim Hickey) back from when Qualls used to be a sub 3.50 ERA machine. But for some reason know, I am thinking we got a dose of quantity over quality so far.
Sure it was great for Qualls to exit stage right in a hurry from the Diamondbacks, especially considering Qualls had posted a 8.29 ERA over his 43 appearances and only produced 12 saves in 16 opportunities. But the Rays did not bring Qualls here to be an 8th inning set-up man, they brought him here to establish a bit of groundball dominance on a team whose defense wins them games.
As I mentioned before, Qualls accumulated his high ERA (8.29) in only 38 total innings with the Diamondbacks while also giving up a grand total of 61 hits,41 runs and 5 Homers during his stay in the hot desert Sun. I was curious to see if Qualls had actually gotten better since his departure from the Diamondbacks and actually discovered Qualls really might just be more quantity than quality right now, even for the Rays.
Over his last 10 appearances, Quall has seen his ERA bounce from a 7.43 ERA to a 8.20 ERA, coming extremely close to his pre-D-back days. And these stats come from his last 10 Rays appearances, and could be a clue the Rays might have gotten a bit duped by acquiring Qualls. He has pitched 11.2 innings in his last 10 appearances, which include giving up a total of 13 hits and 8 runs while blowing 2 save opportunities. But that is not the most alarming stat. The fact Qualls has given up 6 walks against 7 strikeouts tends to point to Qualls might not be a better addition to the Rays Bullpen than a guy from Triple-A right now.
And that is huge when you are in the stretch run trying to catch back up to the New York Yankees and solidify your Bullpen with a playoff mentality. Even more disheartening for Rays fans might be the pure fact he has been a disaster against left-handed hitters since his trade to the Rays. Qualls has thrown 4.1 innings against lefties this year and has blown his 2 save against them, plus bolstered a 14.54 ERA left-handers and a .421 opponents batting average. An accent mark on the whole scenario is Qualls has given up his only Home Run to a left-hander while with the Rays.
But even with all these negative stats floating over Qualls head, he does have a few positives to build on here. Against right-handers, Qualls has posted an impressive 1.23 ERA ( .208 average) with 6 strikeouts. Tends to make you think he will be only posted against right-handed batters the rest of the way through the season. Another sign that Qualls might be finally adjusting back to his old self is the fact Qualls posted a 5.06 ERA for the month of August, his best month of the 2010 Major League Baseball season.
Even with that little ray of sunshine peeking out with his August stats, his September has gotten off on the really rough footing. Right now in his lone appearance of September, Qualls has given up 4 hits and 2 earned run in his only inning of work against the Orioles on Sunday. Boost another fact clear into the light that Qualls has a 13.50 ERA against Boston in his career (1.1 innings), and you get a little more for the Rays to worry about if Qualls takes the mound in this critical series in Fenway Park.
Could yesterdays appearance against the Orioles where Qualls entered the game with a Rays 6-5 lead, but did not register an out, and instantly surrendered 2 hits and walk. Qualls also saw two of the inherited men on base score along with two credited to him in this brief outing. Kind of shovels a level of dirt over his last 6 prior appearances, which were scoreless. His 2010 opponents batting average of .351 is the highest among Major League relievers. Adding more dirt to the pile is the fact his 7.79 combined ERA is also the highest among Major League relievers.
Hopefully we will see a reduced role with Qualls over the rest of the season, and that his name was not on the original post season roster submitted by the Rays to MLB on August 31st. Qualls might have some use between today and October 4th, but he should not be added or even considered for the post season roster. And it is a pity that the pitcher who posted a career high mark of 24 saves and led all Major League relievers with a 1.21 BB/9IP ratio and 6.43 SO/9IP ratio has seen his career this season plunder into the darkness.
But it is time Rays. It is time to admit the trade was not going to pan out and cut our losses before something drastic happens, or we lose another game at the hand of Qualls. And it is a real shame that his pitching “Quall-ity” did not bring more success for the Rays as we saw plenty of quantity runs scored against him.
Baseball has endured all kinds of horrors and indiscretions over its duration. There has been the Spitball or doctoring the ball Era, the Dead Ball Era, Live Ball Era, and of course, the recent Steroid Era. But for some reason, I am beginning to think Major League Baseball might be entering into another new and systematically devastating era that has just starting to peak its way over the horizon…. I am beginning to think we are just on the threshold of the Electronic Era.
With the advancements in electronics, video equipment and also audio response devices, the whole scenario has endless possibilities. There are now people assigned to the job of breaking down a opposing pitcher’s mechanics to show indications of what pitch might be coming out of their hand at any particular moment. Teams have endless research and statistics at their fingertips from web sources and in-house agencies like Bloomberg Sports. And then there are the players who seek every advantage to get the upper hand on their competition, not just to gain a “W”, but to get added motivation and confidence. This Era could be the most devastating to the sport.
You might wonder why I am beginning to bring such matters up, why I am focusing on this one item that could explode and show that technology has made it was onto the field, and that one recent discovery, maybe by accident, could show that violations could already be effecting the game I love. It is not like Major League Baseball players will take an edge or any advantage they can get and throw it out the window if it is in a gray area. But when they step into that black and white area where few dare to tread for repercussions and penalties, that is when I am concerned.
Tuesday night during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the San Diego Padres, I first heard a few mumbles from a few faithful Rays fans of a certain player maybe having a “cheat sheet” in his back pocket on the field. Now I know players are allowed to have a small laminated sheet to illustrate maybe fielding positional changes, and maybe even give a heads up to hitting tendencies to a certain spot, or gap. But as I watched this player kind of without immediate attention that night something began to stir.
There I was again remembering how I used to use tactics of my own to get an edge in sports. I was not a dirty player, but if you let me have an advantage, I did take it and run every time. And the fielding “cheat sheets” by Padres Tony Gwynn Junior and Will Venable did not bother me until I personally saw something else pop out of Venable’s pocket on Wednesday night. From that moment on, for the rest of the night, I saw him take out both a laminated card and read it before certain Rays hitters, and then something else seemed to have come out of his pocket, and it shocked me.
In this blog I decided to include both the partially blown up photos to show the item in Venable’s hand, plus the original photo so you can download and blow it up in any shape or form for yourself to show that this item was bigger and more pronounced than the smaller white edged laminated sheet. It seemed that Venable might have been using a P D A or I-phone, or some other form of electronic items while he was camped in Rightfield at Tropicana Field. It shocked me at first, but then I realized that maybe it might be permissible during this type of series since the Rays and Padres would play only this small 3-game series, then maybe not see each other for another 6-8 years, unless it is in the World Series.
Fran Fusco, who has a long history of baseball in their family blood (she is the sister of ex-Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman) first alerted me to the situation on Wednesday night before the game. A few other Rays fans in the stands also gave their vocal interpretations to the events of the previous night, so I decided to try and find out for myself, see if this is really happening, or was just a mirage caused by the reflective lights of the Trop. hitting the paper at a weird angle. Wish I could say it was all a figment of our collective imaginations, but it was as real as Carlos Pena hitting an opposite field Home Run, or Matt Garza’s goatee.
So after the game I showed the pictures to a member of the Rays Radio Network, and he asked me to forward the photos to him for further examination. He also asked me not to bring attention the knowledge of these photos for a day, which I was more than happy to oblige since I had not been able to blow them up properly while sitting in the seating bowl. But when I did blow up two of the photos later that night at home, there was a distinctive difference in the shapes and sizes of the two items in question…The plot thickened immediately.
I especially paid close attention to Venable’s left back pants pocket that was showed a huge change in the shape of his right pocket, which had a pair of batting gloves sticking out of them. The rectangular shape could have been a tri-folded laminated card, but there was also a dim light source that could not be formed by the lighting pattern within Tropicana Field, so the mystery got thicker and thicker for me. I kind of half paid attention, but still got some good shots of the pocket, and Venable taking either item out to glance at it between innings, or during pitching changes that night.
Venable was definitely using the chart or device to gain an advantage or educate himself on the Rays tendencies during that contest. I first noticed him looking at the chart/device during Rays D H Hank Blalock’s plate appearance, then during pitching changes of two Padres relievers, Rick Webb and Mike Adams. Venable was so nonchalant about the items in his left rear pocket that it really did not alarm me that night. But after the game the Rays front office member I sent the photos to, plus the urgency of that transfer told me I might have stumbled on something here.
I got a rumor floated to me that Venable had told a few members of the Rays that it ” was a laminated card”, which in a few of the photos it definitely looked like just that, but a few of the other photos, there was a darker item that was thicker and more like a portable device than a simple one-ply piece of paper with lamination on it. I had heard through the Rays grapevine before Thursday afternoon’s game that three other Rays fans had reported the event, plus one writing a letter to the National League President Frank Robinson about the episode. So with so many people now showing extreme attention to this set of events, I carefully studied and watched Venable with extreme precision on Thursday.
Sixteen times in Thursdays match-up Venable went to his back pocket in plain sight of everyone in the stands, to check his card. This time he made it clear and evident to everyone that it was indeed a card and not anything else. He even did it at multiple angles to give any camera now trained on him an exclusive look and possible angle to show he was in compliance during that game. It was also during Thursdays contest that I also saw Gywnn bring out his card during a break in the action. The Padres had definitely heard someone was watching them, and they played the game to the fullest.
And it is alarming to me that this kind of event could be going on at other games and venues right now. I can understand using these kind of devices in the clubhouse, or even the dugout to inform and help players adjust accordingly for games. But if this technology creeps into the fabric of the game during play in the field, that is where I personally draw a line in the clay. There are Coaches on either bench who can adjust or even sway a defensive alignment with a hand gesture, and there are charts that can be reviewed between innings to help guide a impromptu adjustment. But electronic devices need to stay outside the lines.
There are already too many calls for reviews, electronic strike zones to complicate the game instead of simplify it. If there is an Electronic Era evolving around the game as I predict, hopefully we can keep it off the field and in the dark where it belongs. Not darkness to not acknowledge its existence, but darkness to keep prying eyes way from vital information that each team collects and administers at the right moment. One of the reason kids take up the game of baseball is not for the team building skills but for the simplicity of the game. Throw the ball, hit the ball, run to the base.
If this violation is found to warrant further review it will not change the outcome of the Rays two losses during this series, but it could be an indication that some people are seeing loopholes in the system. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey came over before Thursdays contest and asked me what I had seen the night before. I immediately let him know I transferred photos to a Rays team official, and that the photos were now also in the Rays hands to do what they will with them.
I am not out to get someone in trouble, suspended or even fined for something that happened during that Rays versus Padres series. But I want fairness to be achieved. I want the Rays to know that nothing is going on that gives another team an advantage. I learned as a young kid that “cheaters never prosper.” Hopefully that old quote also applies to the MLB too.
Believe me, I understand the Tampa Bay Rays and their anti-Philadelphia baseball-related sentiments after also personally enduring some of that civic indigestion following the conclusion of the 2008 World Series against the “City of Brotherly Love”. And I truly get Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sense of irony and side joke the Tampa Bay Rays team possibly all wearing Chicago Blackhawks jerseys with the Chi-town team opening the 2010 Stanley Cup finals in Philadelphia this Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. But really Joe, wearing Blackhawks gear?
I might be the only one thinking on this vein, but I find it a bit confusing that the Rays squad is even considering wearing Chicago Blackhawk custom made hockey sweaters minutes after we conclude our 3-game series against a team that resides in the South side of Chi-town. I totally get and support Maddon on his creative idea to showcase Canada’s National sport since we are heading to Toronto following Sunday’s finale against the White Sox, but maybe wearing Blackhawks gear is a bit too much for me?
Not sure if that is a great way to bolster any additional Tampa Bay civic pride towards the Rays and possibly get more Rays fans to flock to the Trop. if you send a weird mix signal like this to the Rays Republic. This to me would be like me wearing my Cooperstown replica 1919 White Sox jersey to tonight’s Rays game and not being considered a “bandwagon” fan or even an outsider. And I commend Maddon for once again thinking extremely outside-the-box in boosting his squad’s morale and chemistry by bringing up the idea of wearing NHL hockey jerseys on their upcoming 6-game road trip’s first stop in to Toronto, but couldn’t we have asked the Tampa Bay Lightning first?
Maybe I am being a bit too “civic sensitive” here in thinking the Lightning might consider outfitting the Rays squad with their own jerseys especially since several current Rays players (Evan Longoria, B J Upton) and former Rays (Toby Hall, Scott Kazmir) have been known to wander around the Lightning locker room. And I could see Maddon possibly putting on a number 11 jersey of Chicago Blackhawk center John Madden at another moment in time, but not this weekend. Leave it to Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to fuel the anti-Phillies fires with a nice cheeky statement in a US Today story on May 26th:
“Nothing like a little pro-Chicago, anti-Philadelphia sentiment. I thought we could share our mutual dislike for Philadelphia sports teams.”
But then again, this just might be my fault being a bit uber sensitive to this region’s plight to right the Rays attendance woes, then seeing a indirect signal from the Rays Coaching staff that flushes the past glory of their own hometown hockey franchise that used to play their NHL contests in the same confines as the Rays just perplexes me at the moment. How many people remember the sight of so many Tampa Bay hockey fans swarming the aisles of Tropicana Field, then the Thunderdome, to set the past record for a NHL post season playoff attendance record (25,945). It was a sign that hockey had finally come to this region and been embraced by the fans.
Sure, I might not have had a single thought about it all if we had played Boston this weekend, or maybe even Cleveland. But the fact that the Windy City’s other MLB squad is seated in our own visitor’s clubhouse, and this Rays team will be sporting their hometown’s NHL gear on the bus to St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport, then fly directly to Toronto definitely evoke a bit of additional indigestion.
Joe, got to say I loved the conceptual idea, but I personally hate the final result.
And with that, the Rays will be totally comfortable playing by the National League standards since they have been playing that style of baseball since the first week in April. The Rays have been masters at executing and perfecting the sacrifice bunt, squeeze bunt and even the suicide squeeze, which have been National League staples among the N L squad’s offensive arsenal.
But what was once considered a N L advantage with the American League teams sending their pitcher’s into the batter’s box for the first time this season, the Rays might have some special surprises awaiting their N L foes.
Sure heading into Houston we will first see Rays starter Matt Garza hit the mound to start the 14th season of Interleague play . And even with the Rays entering this season’s Interleague schedule with a less than .500 record All Time (99-115), they have been a combined 43-29 since Rays Manager Joe Maddon , which is the sixth best record in the Interleague play format since 2006. And over the past two years, only the Minnesota Twins (26-10) own a better Interleague record than the Rays (26-11) coming into their series against the Astros.
But just because this is usually the first time they send their bevy of pitcher’s to the plate, the Rays over the last two years have batted a Major League best .295 in Interleague play and their pitching staff has held their opponents to a .236 average, also best in the Major League. And even during their 2009 campaign into Interleague play, the Rays posted a 13-5 record last season which was beat only by the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim (14-4).
But playing in unfamiliar parks have been a bit of thorn in the Rays sides as they hold a 44-63 record in the National League ballparks, but they have begun to reverse that trend as they have gone 11-7 over the past two seasons in their strange surroundings.
But heading into the confines of Minute Maid Park with its train that moves throughout the outfield during Home Runs, and their unique Centerfield incline with their majestic flagpole in the center, this will only be the second time the Rays have ever wandered into the Astros home turf. But back in 2003, their last visit to Houston, the Rays did not leave with a great bit of Texas hospitality as the Astros swept them during contests from June6-8, 2003. And only one Rays player still remains on their roster from that 2003 squad, and Houston just happens to be his hometown (Carl Crawford).
But the two teams did meet during 2008 from June 20-22,2008 as the Astros took two out of three from the Rays with former Astros Brandon Backe beating the Rays in their “throwback jerseys on that Sunday contest. Surprisingly, all three of those game were one run contests that season. But there will be quite a few Rays who will have a crowd or two on hand during this road series as Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who will start the Sunday finale, Crawford, Rays set-up man Dan Wheeler, and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey all have Houston roots. But the real treat might just be in how the Rays pitching staff does at the plate during this series.
The Rays pitching staff have been taking their turns in the Batting Cages over the last several weeks with several Rays pitchers showing they might just come out and surprise a few of us during the N L-slate of the Interleague this season. And starting with tonight’s starter Matt Garza, who is a career 0-8 at the plate, but has been showing increased ease and poise at the plate in recent B P sessions with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton.
And Garza has a bit of revenge on his mind as this will be his second start against Houston lifetime. But his last outing on June 20,2008 when he opposed Astros ace Roy Oswalt did not go well as he lost the decision 4-3. But Garza also brings in a nice 3-2 mark All Time in Interleague play with a special one-hitter in 2008 against the Florida Marlins.
And with no Designated Hitter in N L parks, the Rays might be at a distinctive disadvantage seeing that only 5 other members of the entire Rays pitching staff after Garza even have a Batting Average. We could possibly see Lance Cormier ( 5-46 .109 2 RBI ), Dan Wheeler ( 1-7 .143 ) make at least one plate appearance this series. But Rays Saturday starter leftie David Price owns a 1-3 .333 batting average, and last night’s starter James Shields could get a go at the plate in the middle innings if Maddon wants to save his bench players for a late inning rally. Shield sports a 5-22 .227 average with 1 RBI. But the pride and joy of the Rays pitching staff hitters might be their “secret weapon” Rays long man Andy Sonnanstine who is a career 7-21 or .333 with 2 RBI.
But most Rays fans might remember his May 17,2009 clutch performance when a line-up card snafu had Sonnanstine batting in the 3-hole after a mix-up on the initial lineup card given to the Home Plate Umpire before that contest. For some odd reason, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria was suppose to be the game’s DH, but was listed on the lineup card as a second Rays Third Baseman and was disqualified from the lineup. Sonnanstine responded with a 1-3 day with a RBI double.
And with Sonnanstines first step into the batter’s box, he became the first AL pitcher to be in the lineup in an AL ballpark since Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Brett stepped in the box on September 23, 1976 against the Minnesota Twins. On that date, Sonnanstine also became the first Rays pitcher to ever head to the Batter’s box in an AL home game, plus was the first Rays pitcher to ever bat at Tropicana Field.
Because of that hitting success, Maddon used Sonnanstine again on May 23,2009 as a Pinch Hitter against the Florida Marlins at then Pro Player Stadium, he then again stepped into the box on June 21, 2009 against the New York Mets at Citi Field. During those appearances, Sonnanstine became only the second Rays pitcher following James Shields example from his June 28,2008 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Three Rivers Stadium. Sonnanstine also pinch ran on June 6, 2009 in a AL game against the New York Yankees and scored a run for the Rays.
But after the aforementioned five Rays pitching “hitters”, the rest of the Rays Bullpen and starter have laid golden goose eggs to a tune of going 0-19 lifetime during Interleague play. Rays starters have combined for a 6-38 mark or a .157 average combined, but Wade Davis has never made an appearance yet in a Major League batter’s box. The Rays Bullpen (including Wheeler, Cormier and Sonnanstine ) have gone 13 for 93 or a .140 Batting Average in Interleague play. Hopefully we will not have to see Rays relievers Randy Choate (0-5), Rafael Soriano (0-4), Grant Balfour (0-1) or Joaquin Benoit (0-9) make plate appearances during this series.
And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.
One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.
How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.
For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.
But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.
If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?
I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.
We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.
And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.
Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.
If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.
But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.
So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.
And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.
My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.
That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.
But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.
This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.
I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.
Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.
It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.
Some people consider the number “13″ to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13″ for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.
It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.